I’ve had a harder time than usual merely reading for the sake of reading these last few months. My brain keeps chewing up the stories I’m trying to enjoy and spitting them back out, getting stuck on the character cliches and unsurprising plot twists and sometimes ungainly clumps of words.
This isn’t to say that I haven’t read any good books this year, or that I don’t make these exact same mistakes in my own work. I have, and I do. But it’s also easier than ever for me to see through the magical veil that used to come down over me whenever I’d crack open a brand new book, because of the time I’ve spent on my own stories.
That said, I’ve also noticed that there are plenty of problematic elements I’m willing to overlook if a story is done well, and that a lot of those elements are genre specific.
When I’m reading fantasy or sci-fi, I almost always stumble across a point where I don’t understand the science or the magic, the technology or the weapons or the purpose behind some military or political strategy. Maybe this is because I don’t write these genres, or because I HATE world-building and think it’s a necessary evil at best. As long as the bulk of the story doesn’t leave me feeling lost, I have no problems reading through the confusing bit, accepting that it’s going to go over my head, and moving on.
I’m also not a fan of dubious power dynamics within a couple or potential romantic pairing in contemporary fiction, but if one half of a fantasy couple is human and the other half is super-powered, it bothers me a lot less. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate when both halves of a couple can hold their own in-universe, or when traditionally “male” or “female” skills are subverted. It just isn’t as much of a sticking point for me as it would be if the story was set in our world.
On the other hand, cliched romantic pairings such as the “good” girl and the “bad” boy bother me so much less in contemporary fiction than they should. If the plot of a book is otherwise good and the stakes are high, I won’t get stuck on whether the characters are a little two-dimensional. Similarly, if the characterization throughout a contemporary story is good right up until one of the characters does something unforgivably stupid or out-of-character, I’m a lot more forgiving than if the same thing were to happen in a fantasy or sci-fi setting.
I’m guessing that some of you monitor your reactions to books or other media in much the same way that I do, and I’d be interested to know what some of your peculiar hang-ups are. Leave me a comment and let me know!